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Drake Relays Offer A Rare Thrill Of Competition For Para Shot Putter Josh Cinnamo

By Ryan Wilson | Sept. 18, 2020, 3:21 p.m. (ET)

Joshua Cinnamo at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.


With most track and field events in the United States being canceled or going virtual this year, shot putter Josh Cinnamo had to get a little creative to continue his preparation for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021.

For him, that meant competing against the world’s best able-bodied shot putters in the Drake Blue Oval Showcase, or Drake Relays, on Aug. 25 and 29.

Cinnamo threw at the Drake Relays to continue sharpening his skills prior to the postponed Paralympic Games. This not the first time he has competed at this event, but it was his first time throwing in a competitive atmosphere since the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the sports world.

“This has really been my only opportunity to compete,” Cinnamo said.

When looking at the standings from the meets, Cinnamo, technically finished last both days, but the valuable practice and experience competing is what matters most over the result. Plus, Cinnamo’s competitors were among the best able-bodied throwers in the world.

Take Ryan Crouser, for example.

Crouser won gold at the Rio 2016 Games, and currently ranks No. 1 internationally. In the second meet of the Drake Relays, he surpassed 22 meters on all six attempts. In the first meet, he passed 22 meters in four attempts. The Olympian is the only thrower in the world to exceed such a distance this year.

And Nick Ponzio was there, too. Ponzio, a 2018 USC grad, ranks second in the world. He passed the 20-meter mark on all attempts in Meet 2, and four attempts in the first meet.

Cinnamo, though, holds the top spot in the F46 class world ranking, and he won gold at the 2019 world championships, his first world championship since taking up the sport only five years prior.

Although his throws at the Drake Relays set no records, it was either his second- or third-best performance of all time.

Olympic throwers typically throw further than their Paralympic counterparts. Crouser’s best throw is a touch under 23 meters, Cinnamo’s is 16.80.

“If I continue to go at the pace I’m at, I’ll be 74 years old by the time I catch up to him,” Cinnamo, 39, joked. “It’s always strange to be in a predicament where you can (set your personal record) by 6 feet, and you still lose by 20 feet. It’s a little bit of a weird dynamic, but I know the Olympic-level throwers appreciate what we do and who we are just as much as we do them.”

The San Diego native, now living in Minnesota, said the Drake Relays taught him the importance of having a season or just opportunities for competitive throwing.

Initially, he said, it took him time to adjust to the health precautions put in place. People were broadcasting next to the ring, staff members were wearing masks and gloves, and they cleaned their hands between throws. There was also no crowd. It was so quiet “you could hear a pin drop.”

After his apprehension led him to thinking about not overthrowing or under-throwing in the first meet, Cinnamo turned things around for the Saturday meet.

“By (the second meet), everybody was kind of rip-roaring and throwing the way they would normally,” Cinnamo said.

Cinnamo is not entirely sure when his next meet will be. There are currently no other events on this year’s schedule, but he is eyeing next year’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Track and Field. The Trials are set to kick off June 17, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the Games to follow about two months later.

Cinnamo hopes to be there making his Paralympic debut.

“From here on out, I’m less than a year from throwing at the Paralympic Games,” he said. “I’m just going to train this entire year, this next 360 days or so. … I don’t care if there are other meets on the schedule or not. I’m just going to train right through, and hopefully, by the time we go to (the Paralympics), I won’t have to worry about it.

“I can just throw, win gold and be done with it.”

It’s that simple?

“Yeah, it really is. You have to prepare — the only thing I can do is prepare. All of the circumstances surrounding the season, the pandemic, I can’t control, but I can certainly work out.”

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc

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